Prioneers in Tech: LGBTQ+ activist Edith Windsor’s first career
The late Edith Windsor is best known as the plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and helped paved the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. Windsor’s grassroots activism in the LGBTQ+ community was well established even before she took on DOMA, but she herself referred to it as her “second career.” Her first career was in computer programming.
Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, Windsor earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple University in 1950. An early marriage ended after one year, and after divorcing she moved to New York City and worked secretarial jobs while pursuing a master’s degree in applied mathematics from New York University. While at NYU, she programmed a UNIVAC for the Atomic Energy Commission, a federal agency that oversaw nuclear power following World War II. This experience led to a position at IBM, where she worked until 1975. When she took early retirement, she had risen to the position of senior systems programmer, the company’s highest technical position.
After leaving IBM, Windsor founded the consulting firm PC Classics and began helping LGBTQ+ community organizations enter the digital age. She is also reported to have owned the first PC delivered to New York City.
In 1963, Windsor met Thea Spyer, and the two were a couple for 40 years before marrying in 2007 in Canada. When Spyer passed away in 2009, Windsor was taxed on Spyer’s estate, despite the State of New York’s legal recognition of their Canadian marriage. A surviving heterosexual spouse would have faced no tax liability. She argued the unfairness of this in United States v. Windsor, which established that legally married same-sex couples were entitled to the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Windsor passed away in 2017 at age 88.
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